Three Stoic Pillars to Living the Good Life

If you take the time to really break down what is involved in living the good life, you’ll discover that there are only a few principles that you have to strictly adhere to.

Awareness. Acceptance. Appreciation. 

Awareness

There’s no way around it, if you want to live a joyful life you must become aware of how you currently live your life. 

How do you go about your daily operations, what do you think in your head, what actions do you take, how do you respond to external events, etc?

In order to improve your life you need to improve your ability to objectively observe your life.

Think of it like a third party observer within your head, a spectator, one that doesn’t judge harshly or criticize but simply watches, observes and witnesses the movie unrolling of you living your life. 

Throughout each day bring attention to what is going on in your mind and mindfully ask if it aligns with the kind of thoughts your ideal self would be thinking. Repeat the process for the way you act and react in social settings with those you care about. 

Are you allowing your impulses to steer the wheel and do as they please, or are you carefully considering your options to ensure you select the right one? 

We cannot control what happens externally in life (the upcoming pillar), but we have, if we intentionally decide to use it, full control over how we choose to perceive what does happen. 

If we make it a habit to view things from a perspective that minimizes negativity and enhances positivity, despite whatever circumstance we may find ourselves in, then we are on the path to living the good life. 

“It is not external events themselves that cause us distress, but the way in which we think about them, our interpretation of their significance. It is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble. We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” – Epictetus

Acceptance

Similar to the serenity prayer, we have to constantly remind ourselves of what is in our control and what isn’t.

Obsessing over what is out of our hands is a recipe for a miserable existence. And if you become more aware of your daily mental processes and still continue to focus on what is out of your control, then you’re intentionally self sabotaging and preventing yourself from a much happier life. 

By shifting our attention to doing our absolute best in regards to the things in our control while simultaneously working to accept the things that we cannot change, we can start to pave a route towards living in a much brighter atmosphere and begin to minimize the perceived pain and suffering we’ve unconsciously and unnecessarily been causing ourselves. 

What is in our control:

-being more mindful of our thoughts, actions and responses to external events

-choosing to be kinder to ourselves and others despite the situation

-not believing each and every one of our thoughts to always be accurate

-deciding to no longer dwell on the past or stress about the future but rather live in the present

-accepting that whatever happens externally is out of our hands and that we can choose to live a happy life even through inevitable and difficult times

“It’s unfortunate that this has happened. No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed by it— not shattered by the present or frightened of the future. Does what’s happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all the other qualities that allow a person’s nature to fulfill itself? So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.” – Marcus Aurelius 

Appreciation

We are all going to die. 

Some much sooner than others, but the fact still remains that we will depart from this world. 

Just think about how many people have passed since you’ve been born, especially those born after you.  

Nothing lasts forever, both the good and the bad. 

So when the bad times do come, which they will, we can build an impenetrable fortress of gratitude deep within ourselves that enables us to tend to our wounds but still feel immense appreciation for all that still is in our lives. 

And when the good times are here, we must make it a habit to focus on fully appreciating them without spending time wishing for what we don’t have.

Epictetus once said that we must take great care with what we have while the world let’s us have it. 

We all have a great deal to be thankful for in our lives, so much we were provided with at birth, for free, that we literally couldn’t live without. 

If we make it our main objective to live each and every day with appreciation at the top of our mind we will ensure ourselves a fast pass to living the good life. 

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Turning a negative emotion into a positive one

Our impulses are potent. 

They’ve been hardwired into our brain through repetition over the course of many years. 

Some impulses are beneficial to our survival while plenty of others cause us unnecessary distress. 

When we are stressed out or angry about the million and one little things going on in our life, we release a stress hormone called cortisol. In this flight or fight mode our body literally shuts down our immune system. 

And when we are in this state of emotion often enough, our body weakens and we often get tired and ill because energy is no longer being conserved for the immune system but rather sending resources to focus on the anxiety that is occurring in our life. 

Interesting fact: Stress hormones like Cortisol are so effective at shutting down the immune system that doctors inject it into people receiving organ transplants. This literally prevents the immune system from doing its job of fighting and rejecting the foreign object. 

To make matters worse, each time we get into these stressful states of mind we shut down our brain’s ability to see and think clearly while unconsciously reinforcing the bad habit that led to us building up the tension to begin with.

Suffice to say, these negative emotions are extremely detrimental to both our physical and mental well-being. 

If your life isn’t in immediate danger, continuing to live at these elevated levels of stress that’s all too common in today’s world is a sure fire way to reduce your lifespan. 

But enough with the negativity! 

It’s time to focus on confronting the negative with the positive.

The next time you find yourself starting to get worked up, possibly by recognizing the tension in your body or by certain thoughts you begin telling yourself, try to take a step back and breathe for just a quick second or two. 

Become aware of the big picture and ask yourself questions such as: 

How can I take care of myself right now? 

What would be the best thing to focus my attention on?

Is this situation worth harming my body and mind for? 

Can I replace this emotion of frustration with a positive one like compassion? 

It certainly won’t be easy and it’s a guarantee that there will be moments where your old triggers override your reasoning, but with practice you can begin to minimize the damage that would typically turn into a blown out stressfest. 

Even better, the habit of impulsive reactions will naturally weaken over time while the new and more positive patterns will consume more attention, leading to a better quality of life. 

“Every habit and capability is confirmed and grows in its corresponding actions, walking by walking, and running by running . . . therefore, if you want to do something, make a habit of it, if you don’t want to do that, don’t, but make a habit of something else instead. The same principle is at work in our state of mind. When you get angry, you’ve not only experienced that evil, but you’ve also reinforced a bad habit, adding fuel to the fire.” – Epictetus 

Living on borrowed time

Just as we were somehow granted life, some day we will have to return it.

Our existence is based on borrowed time.

Let that soak in for a moment and don’t try to dismiss it. 

We are living on borrowed time and a period will come when it’ll have to be given back. 

Amongst all of the cares and concerns that fill up our daily lives, the fact remains that it’ll cease to exist at some point. 

Poof, into thin air. 

We all have our own struggles to deal with, some certainly worse than others. But identifying ourselves from a filter through them is optional. 

It’s up to us to choose how we perceive the ups and downs as well as how much of our limited time we want to spend being consumed by what is or could go wrong. 

In the end, what can really be worse than ceasing to exist?

Practice taking a mental step back every so often. 

From this perspective try to discard the trivial and focus on what truly matters. 

Learn to accept what isn’t in your control and do your best to work on what is in your power. 

Each and every day, appreciate the seconds that you have while you still have them with whomever you have them with. 

Time is ticking. 

“Keep the spirit inside you undamaged, as if you might have to give it back at any moment.” – Marcus Aurelius

The Streetlight Effect: Why we look in the wrong places for what we truly want

There’s a parable that goes a little something like this…

A man is out walking the street at night and sees another man searching for something on the ground. He goes up to the person and asks him what he’s looking for. 

The man responds that he has lost his keys. 

So they both go on their hands and knees looking for the lost keys. 

After some time, the man who offered to help asks the other man, “Where exactly do you remember losing your keys?” 

The man responds, “In my house.” 

Confused, the other man asks, “Then why are you looking here for them?”

He replies, “Because the lighting is much better out here.” 

This concept is known as the streetlight effect and draws parallels with our own lives in our perpetual quest for happiness. 

We tend to look externally for what we want because it’s the easier route to attaining truth, rather than taking the more difficult road internally where truth actually exists.

Our mental wiring is flawed, as you simply cannot seek something where it doesn’t exist, despite how easy or difficult the path may be. 

The keys that the man lost inside his home will never be found outside under the streetlight just like you will never find lasting happiness, peace and/or fulfillment outside of yourself.

So why do we do this to ourselves? Most of us know viscerally that money, success and social status are not the answer to our every problem and need, so what gives?

Is it the result of self-sabotage? Fear? Stupidity? Laziness?

It certainly takes hard work and effort to explore the inner depths of our being, to learn the ways of our mind and leverage that understanding to our advantage. 

But where’s the evidence proving that we don’t have “god”, the universe, infinite cosmic intelligence or whatever you want to call it, within us, and that the multitude of us are simply too blind and fearful to put in the reps to access and tap into it? (the human brain has been evolving for millions of years, we just might have a lot more potential than we give ourselves credit for in today’s society.) 

Wouldn’t feeling just 10% of what we truly seek throughout a lifetime beat out feeling none of it at all, or just fleeting glimpses of it? 

Most of us are playing a rigged game, one that we have allowed ourselves to fall into and accept as the only option to achieve a sense of prosperity in our lives. 

Fortunately, there is a way out of this warped thinking and that’s through within. 

Once you start to focus on the inner world and become more aware, loving and kinder towards yourself, you won’t need any additional motivation or willpower to further the momentum of enhancing the quality of your life. It will happen organically and become as natural to you as walking while talking. 

Armed with this knowledge, ask yourself this question: 

How will my decision to willingly NOT pursue the internal path impact the rest of my life and all those I love and care about? 

“It is difficult to find happiness within oneself, but it is impossible to find it anywhere else.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

Applying the method of Inversion to ensure a happy life

Most of us wander through life applying the same run down approach toward achieving happiness. We seek recognition, praise, money and more possessions in hopes that they will bring us contentment.

But even if we achieve them (all of the honor, accolades, mansions and millions of dollars in the bank account) unfortunately they still won’t provide us with the feeling of inner joy that we long for. 

It’s true that they may boost our confidence, ego and eliminate money problems, but we’ll still be the same person more or less that we are now (along with a whole new set of problems to deal with).

So what then you might ask, can one do to actually attain what we truly want?

A highly effective technique that can be applied is called inversion.

Billionaire investor Charlie Munger (business partner of Warren Buffet) once said, “It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent… Invert, always invert: Turn a situation or problem upside down. Look at it backward” 

By applying this concept, instead of thinking of how you can become happier, the inverse question would be something along the lines of how can I ensure I’ll live an unhappy life

When you take this approach you’ll be surprised at what answers you come up with, and don’t be shocked if some or even most of them are things that you currently do in your life. 

These are hard and indisputable truths that we must accept and work on eliminating or improving, and are what can lead us to the promised land.

So what exactly would guarantee one to live an unhappy life?

Off the top of my head, I’ve listed a handful below. 

Not having quality and deeply meaningful relationships.

Focusing on what other people say, do and think, feeling envious often and constantly comparing yourself to them.

Not putting time and effort into improving yourself both mentally and physically.

Not appreciating everything that you have and realizing how quickly it can all be taken away.

Not pursuing your passions/interests that will bring you fulfillment.

Always looking for more and never being content with what you already have.

Not giving yourself enough love and care, or being humble and proud of yourself for your life.

When we focus on the inversion method we view things from a new perspective, one that can enable us to see the truth and start taking actionable steps towards ensuring that we gain an unwavering and deep sense of joy before life passes us by. 

It’s by finding ways to prevent ourselves from living an unhappy existence that results in a life we can be happy, satisfied and proud of living.

“What a man is contributes much more to his happiness than what he has.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

How learning to want what you already have can transform your life

When you learn to want what you already have instead of focusing on attaining the things you don’t have, a sense of permanent satisfaction for your life can be obtained.

When this invaluable life skill is added to one’s arsenal, the true value of what we do have in life is clearly acknowledged, and it makes us realize with full awareness that they aren’t ours forever and can be taken away in an instant.

This knowledge enriches all of life’s experiences and the feelings that derive from recognizing each enriched experience is what we call being fulfilled. 

Ultimately, we all innately strive to live fulfilling lives. 

This leads us to the question: 

How exactly do we go about learning to want what we already have while not focusing on what we don’t have, so that we can achieve a sense of fulfillment?

Gratitude is the answer. 

By planting seeds of reminders to repeatedly focus your attention on what in your life you’re thankful for, a habit can form. 

This habit then begins to work in the background of your life, (through a network of neurons located in the brainstem called the Reticular Activating System, which filters out unnecessary information so that it can focus on bringing in more important information) unconsciously searching for references of what else can be brought into your conscious awareness to start appreciating more. 

Every time a brief conscious recognition of gratitude occurs for even the smallest thing, positive feelings are expressed from within, bringing you joy and happiness in that present moment. 

These emotions stay with you long after you knowingly realize and with consistency, they start to impact the wiring of your brain. 

This process, known as neuroplasticity, reprograms neural connections inside your brain, which in return leads to directly influencing your thoughts as well as your perceptions and how you understand things and give meaning to them.  

Through repetition over time, your subconscious will feed you new things to appreciate and different ways to be thankful for what you have, leading to a literal transformation in your brain and as a result, in your life. 

Makes you want to start practicing gratitude a bit more in your life, huh? 

Spending copious amounts of time mindlessly comparing ourselves to others and thinking about what they have that we don’t is a suckers game that provides us with no value and only brings rise to negative emotions. 

It’s when we focus our attention and thoughts toward the abundance of what we do have in this world that we begin to appreciate what’s most precious and priceless to us in the present moment. 

The garden of the soul lives in the now, where beautifully vibrant flowers of joy, peace and satisfaction are constantly springing about and flourishing. 

A sense of perpetual fulfillment in each moment is yours for the taking. 

Capture it through the practice of gratitude. 

Treat what you don’t have as non-existent. Look at what you have, the things you value most, and think of how much you’d crave them if you didn’t have them.” – Marcus Aurelius

Existence over Consumption

With worldwide news being instantly available to us on a 24/7 loop, and the vast majority of that information being bad news, it’s no wonder that a negative attitude towards many aspects of life has become a common and pervasive outlook in this modern age. 

Most of us consume and consume and consume, from the moment we wake up until the final minutes before we go to bed. 

Have you ever stopped for a second to think if there’s a better way to live? 

Wouldn’t you agree that a life with a little less consumption would do our minds and souls a lot of good? 

Imagine a life where we take a mental break from technology, even for just 30 minutes to an hour at first and expand from there, where we simply just exist and learn to recover from the unhealthy habit and addiction of needing to constantly grab our phones to check social media or the news every few minutes. 

Why not try to pursue a healthier daily routine that is filled with extended periods of complete disconnection from the rest of the world, where you spend time intentionally existing in the present moment, self reflecting and discovering who you are, just to see how it makes you feel? 

We call ourselves human beings, yet ever since smartphones and social media and push notifications came into our lives we rarely have even a split second of time to just “be”. 

We are all attracted to the idea of having peace of mind, feeling more calm and composed (especially during stressful situations) and living in periodic states of joy and contentment, yet our actions typically push us further away from attaining them. 

The solution isn’t complex. 

Stop overdosing on consumption. 

Take charge of your mind and your actions. 

Make the time each day to do what nature has prescribed for us all. 

Just exist. 

With consistency, the results will forever change your life for the better. 

“Disconnect with the world. Reconnect with yourself.”

“Do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life”

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There are endless cliches about living your best life. 

Live every day like it’s your last. You only live once, and so on.

While you’ve most likely heard these hundreds of times, have you ever taken a moment to really contemplate the meaning behind them?

In one of the greatest books of all time (Meditations by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, written nearly 2,000 years ago) Marcus said:

Do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life.” 

Imagine what our lives would be like if we strived to keep this at the top of our mind day in and day out.

By putting in the effort to intentionally experience each thing we do in life as if it literally was the final moments of our existence, our entire world and perspective would change instantly. 

Life would take on a much deeper significance and meaning. 

This technique would bring a heightened sense of awareness to the present, enabling us to live in the moment without distractions about the past or the future. 

Our capacity for appreciating and seeing the beauty in our lives as well as the love and compassion we have for others would increase tenfold. 

Time is finite. 

We all know for certain that one day our time will come to depart from this world. 

Instead of drifting through life and allowing our impulses to dominate our state of mind, we can apply this concept and find the positive in nearly everything that we do (even the things that we don’t always enjoy doing). 

We can inject a sense of urgency into the here and now and unlock the treasure chest of gratitude that is within all of us, leading to an enriched life filled with passion for simply being alive. 

While it may not be realistic to live this way all the time, this method could be a valuable tool to enhance life during both good and bad times, when emotions arise of both positivity and negativity. 

Tony Robbins once said, “If you can learn to love, or at least appreciate, start to enjoy the things you used to get upset about, how much freedom would you have? How much more joy would you have?

As you journey onwards with this insight and new point of view in mind, if you find yourself struggling to enjoy many parts of your day to day, then take it as a sign to make a change in your life for the better. 

All we have is right now. Why not ensure we can make the best of it? 

You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” – Marcus Aurelius

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Icing on the Cake Perspective

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I realize that many people struggle in their lives, dealing with a wide range of negative emotions and thoughts on a daily basis.

Regret for not taking advantage of past opportunities or making the wrong decision during a pivotal moment. 

Stress and anxiety when it comes to finances and being able to pay the bills and afford a way of living. 

Unhappiness with a career (or lack thereof) that doesn’t provide the chance for advancement.

But what if there was a better approach to all of this? What if there was a way to change your views on life so that your daily 50,000 or so thoughts (the majority being the same more or less as yesterdays and the day before) aren’t dominated by negativity but instead with feelings of gratitude and possibility? 

I call this the Icing on the Cake Perspective.

Right now you are alive (that’s your cake!). 

You got out of bed this morning (willingly or unwillingly is beside the point) and you are breathing, feeling, thinking, and experiencing life. 

Think for a moment about the thousands of people that die each and every day. From the ones who were sick, to those who got in an accident, to those that simply went to bed and never woke up. 

You are living. You have the precious opportunity to continue experiencing the most incredible thing that we as a species are capable of fathoming. Life. 

Your past is over and done with. The decisions you made back then are kaput, but the ones you decide to make right now are in your control.

Why not look at this present moment, and all the future potential moments that may come as an added bonus, as icing on the cake for your life?

Instead of taking the same old run down perspective that’s filled with negativity, it’s in your power to view everything from a refreshingly new vantage point. 

We all have problems to deal with, some increasingly more significant than others. But at least you have the opportunity to work on and get through them, to learn from them, to become a better and improved person because of them.

Just ask yourself: would you rather be dead?

Our time on this planet is transient. We all understand this superficially, but it’s critical to truly comprehend the magnitude of this statement. 

One day we will die. 

One day will be our very last day. 

That means that there will be a final time that we get to experience many of the things in life worth living for, and we most likely won’t even know it

If something is important to you that you don’t do often enough or at all, make the time to do it. 

If you’ve wanted to make a positive life change but have been too fearful to take the first step, make the time to do it. 

If your life is currently not on the path that you want it to be on, make the time to change it. 

As Paul Graham said, “Cultivate a habit of impatience about the things you most want to do.” 

Do not wait. 

Leave your past where it is. 

Take the present and every future moment you’re fortunate to be blessed with from an icing on the cake perspective.

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How Being Proud of Yourself Can Change Your Life

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As we go through life, we are typically our own harshest critic. We are unjustly hard on ourselves and rarely take time to instead think about reasons that we should be proud of our lives and the accomplishments (however big or small) that we’ve achieved.

When I graduated college (with a Journalism degree I figured I’d never use) I decided not to attend graduation for the fact that I felt like I hadn’t really accomplished anything of value and that there was no reason to be proud.

Fast forward a bit, and I had been working for myself for a few years at that point, yet I continued the automatic and unquestioned behavior of not giving myself much credit at all for my endeavors and achievements.

Instead of taking the time to really think about what I’d been able to pursue and do, I shrugged it off and pushed it to the side and told myself that when I accomplished something of significance, of more value, I’d then be proud of myself.

And there lies the problem.

Deciding to postpone being proud of ourselves for some arbitrary time in the future, only once we determine that we are worthy of it.

Sound like something you do in your life?

The great thing is we can change this ridiculous way of viewing life… right this instant.

It all starts with gratitude.

When you pause from your day to day living and intentionally take the time to reflect on your life and what you’re grateful for, you become exposed to a whole new world, a much better and improved one that is incredibly satisfying to live in and be a part of.

Through the consistent practice of gratitude, you inevitably uncover and shed light on the multitude of situations throughout your journey on earth that you are proud of.

Finding the person of your dreams, the job you thought you’d never get, the discipline and habits you’ve instilled to live a healthy lifestyle, your growth and maturity, the lessons you’ve learned from facing adversity, your impact on those you love and care about, and the list goes on and on and on.

By focusing our attention on what we are proud of, we naturally begin to increase our happiness and joy for our lives, leading to a growing and nurturing sense of self love for ourselves that we’ve never experienced before.

These positive emotions radiate through us, becoming easily recognized by others. They are also massively contagious and impactful to those we hold dear in our hearts.

All of this momentum accelerates our confidence and our ability to keep pushing ourselves to further grow, achieve and find meaning and purpose in life.

Flashing back to my days of delaying being proud of myself for some day in the future, I now look at that period of time as a learning lesson as well as a missed opportunity where I could’ve been proud of myself the entire time. I without a doubt had an infinite amount of reasons to be extremely grateful and proud of my life to that point.

Fortunately, over the last few years I have more than made up for those missed chances.

Through a daily morning practice of gratitude (going on 2 uninterrupted years now), where each and every day I think about 3 new things that I’m grateful for that I haven’t already thought about prior (yes, there are a LOT of things to be grateful for), I’ve been able to attain an unshakeable sense of inner peace and feeling of pride for the abundance in my life.

Instead of pushing the feeling of being proud for some other day, I now dive head first into it multiple times a day.

I have so much to be proud of and I’m certain that you do too.

Being proud of yourself is the greatest proof and act of self love and care for oneself and one’s life.

Don’t postpone it any longer.

“You’re so hard on yourself. Take a moment. Sit back. Marvel at your life: at the grief that softened you, at the heartache that wisened you, at the suffering that strengthened you. Despite everything, you still grow. Be proud of this.” –Unknown

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